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Last Updated on August 10, 2020

How to Become an Entrepreneur (Advice from a Serial Entrepreneur)

How to Become an Entrepreneur (Advice from a Serial Entrepreneur)

The dream of entrepreneurship is really the American Dream. It’s all about being your own boss, having financial security, and creating something from nothing through hard work, dedication, and skill. It’s the rare person who hasn’t pondered the path of how to become an entrepreneur.

I certainly did, and from a young age. Granted that I come from a long line of entrepreneurial people: my great grandfather was a cattle trader and wildcatter. My grandfather and father were in the oil and gas industry and I have been involved in everything from oil and gas to manufacturing, real estate and skin care. In short, I have been a serial entrepreneur for the past 35 years. And in that time, I have both made and lost millions of dollars, managed hundreds of employees, and suffered from anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress, and other health issues.

I have learned lessons from some of the greatest minds in the business world, as well as from my own spectacular failures. But one thing I have never done is quit. And that is lesson one on how to become an entrepreneur.

What People Get Wrong About Entrepreneurship

When I talk to people about entrepreneurship and how to become an entrepreneur, there are some common misconceptions that always arise.

They are almost always based on stereotypes that have seeped into the culture over time. We see them in movies, television, and even from entrepreneurs themselves. But like all stereotypes, they are overgeneralizations that don’t allow us to see the true, in-depth picture of the entrepreneur. So, here are the most common myths I hear about entrepreneurs.

There are “Born” Entrepreneurs

It’s true that if you come from a long line of entrepreneurs (as I did), you are more likely to become one, but it’s not genetically inherited. It’s much more a function of having entrepreneurs as role models in your life. After all, colleges and universities have been teaching all kinds of people business skills and entrepreneurship for decades.

Now, that’s not to say that there are no “born into” advantages that can help with entrepreneurship. Money is a great example of this. If you were lucky enough to be born into a family with money, it will make entrepreneurship a much easier proposition. After all, funding is a major part of any start-up.

That being said, most entrepreneurs were not born into money and still became successful. More on how to do that later.

Entrepreneurs Don’t Have a Social Life

This one is pretty common and sometimes perpetuated by the entrepreneurs themselves. There can be a kind of a machismo attached to the image of a workaholic: someone who is single-minded and entirely focused to the exclusion of other things.

While entrepreneurship does take a lot of time, effort, and dedication, entrepreneurs, by necessity, need to be social creatures. No one rises to the top without a wide network of friends and acquaintances.

They Are Extreme Risk-Takers

There’s no getting around taking risks as an entrepreneur. However, successful entrepreneurs are experts at taking calculated risks — carefully exploring all the options as well as the potential ups and downs before making a decision.

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The person who is willing to risk it all on a roll of the dice isn’t going to be in business very long.

They Are Super Smart

In fact, only about 26% of entrepreneurs have a college degree[1]. While getting or having an education can’t (or shouldn’t) hurt, it is by no means a prerequisite for becoming a successful entrepreneur.

They Raise Money Through Bank Loans and Venture Capital Firms

My hat’s off to you if you can pull that one off, especially a bank loan. You’ll find that banks are more than willing to lend you money once you’ve become successful. But before then, you’re lucky to get a cup of coffee out of them.

No, most new entrepreneurs are raising funds either personally or through friends and family[2].

Anyone Can Be an Entrepreneur

All you need is a great idea and some hard work. After all, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.

Sorry, but that’s just not true.

There is a lot involved in launching a successful startup. Not everyone has the time, ability, or inclination to do it. The truth is, successful entrepreneurs do share some similar traits and habits. We’ll go over those next.

6 Traits of a Successful Entrepreneur

How much is a great new idea worth? Well, that depends. If you’re Steve Jobs, it’s worth billions of dollars. If you’re Steve Jones, whose content working a nine to five job for 30 years, then it’s worth nothing.

The truth is that there are great ideas all around us all the time, but it’s the entrepreneur that gives the idea value.

So how do you know if you have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur? Here is a list of some common traits of successful entrepreneurs.

1. Having Passion

We hear this one a lot, but what does it really mean?

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For the entrepreneurs, passion is an overabundance of enthusiasm for their work. And we’re not talking about a passion for making money or getting rich. That should be a byproduct of passion.

The kind of passion we’re talking about is a complete belief in how the business, product, or service adds value to the consumer. People with this kind of passion are willing to do whatever it takes to see that vision through.

2. Having Tenacity

Let’s face it, rarely do human endeavors go exactly as planned. This is especially true in a start-up situation. No matter how good you are or how many times you’ve done it, things are going to come out of left field and smack you upside the head.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that it’s fun when something unexpected comes out of nowhere and turns your world upside down, but I will say that if you have the tenacity to work through the problem, it will serve as a lesson in resourcefulness for both you and your team.

3. Being Flexible

I’m putting this one right after tenacity because sometimes solutions aren’t a matter of pushing through a problem but going around it.

Back in the 1930s, having wallpaper was the “in” thing. The problem was that it literally was paper. When it got dirty, cleaning it with water and other household products quickly soaked and degraded the paper. The solution was to use a clay like substance to clean the wallpaper without getting it wet. Then in the 1950s, preschool children in Cincinnati started using this same clay to make Christmas decorations. Pretty soon, it was repackaged into Play-Doh[3].

The most successful entrepreneurs are flexible enough to change direction when they need to.

4. Having Confidence

As a startup entrepreneur, it’s extremely important that you exude confidence in your business, product/service, and especially in your own abilities. After all, you need to be inspiring to investors, employees, and customers. No one is inspired to invest, follow, or buy from someone who isn’t confident.

Arrogance, on the other hand, can be just as detrimental to your business as a lack of confidence. For investors, arrogance is a warning sign that you won’t listen to their input or advice. For employees, it can set up a rigid autocratic management style that stifles creativity. And for customers, it can signal a lack of appreciation for their business.

In short, confidence is a must, and arrogance is a no no.

5. Being a Motivated Self-Starter

I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who wasn’t a highly motivated self-starter. Now part of that comes from the passion they have for their business. They really enjoy what they do and can’t wait for Monday to roll around so that they can start again.

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But, another part of that is discipline. They tend to approach everything in life with discipline. Work is the obvious example, but even leisure activities are an exercise in discipline. For example, they promised their spouse that they would get some yard work done, but their kid has a game. Their answer is not to skip either one, it’s to schedule both activities into the day.

6. Being a Calculated Risk Taker

We talked a little bit about this earlier, and the word “calculated” is very important here. We’ve all heard the saying that “With great risk comes great reward.” But too many people confuse “great risk” with “foolish risk.”

A straightforward way to think about this is buying 100,000 lottery tickets. It certainly fits the criteria of a great reward coming from a great risk. But is it a smart (calculated) risk? If you’re intelligent enough to be reading this article, you know the answer.

So, here’s how an entrepreneur thinks about this situation. Instead of buying 100,000 lottery tickets, how about taking that money, use 50% as a down payment on a property that needs a little fix-up; and use the other half to fix it up and then sell it for a $50,000 profit? Now that is a calculated risk.

8 Practical Steps to Become an Entrepreneur

When counseling people on how to become an entrepreneur, I encourage them to take an honest assessment of themselves. This is always much harder than people think.

As humans, we are notoriously bad at self-assessment. We tend to overestimate our skills and abilities. That’s why almost everyone thinks that they are an above average driver[4].

Even so, if you are considering life as an entrepreneur, it’s important to be as honest as possible when doing these self-assessments. Once you have a clear idea of your strengths and weakness, you can use these tips to get started.

1. Develop Your Idea

It doesn’t have to be a totally unique or groundbreaking idea in order to be a successful one. The popular rideshare company Lyft was started three years after the introduction of Uber. They took on the business model of Uber and just tweaked it a little.

Just because there is competition in a field doesn’t mean that you can’t be very successful, too. But this is why developing your idea is so important.

Go ahead and use the business model of the most successful competitor but make it your own by identifying shortcomings and weaknesses that you can exploit for your own success.

2. Research, Research, Research

Research the industry and get to know the players, trade associations, and conventions. Research the products and services involved. It’s not uncommon that the most profitable part of a business isn’t the “main” product, but an ancillary add-on product.

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For example, it’s not uncommon for a restaurant to break even on the food and only make money on the drinks. The reason they can offer a plate full of food for $5.00 is really the $2.00 Coke or $5.00 glass of wine you order with it.

Finally, research the customer. There is literally no way you can understand your customer too much. Things like average age, sex, buying habits, interests, attitudes about health, wealth, social media, and status are all helpful in your targeting and marketing efforts.

3. Create a Formal Business Plan

This step is often overlooked and shouldn’t be. As a one or two-person show, you can probably get along fine without one. But once you start hiring employees, having a formal business plan is essential.

Unfortunately, if you don’t put in in place right away, by the time you need it, you’ll be too busy to create one. It’s always smart to do it up front.

4. Build Your Network

No one can build a successful business on their own. You’ll need investors, attorneys, accountants, bankers, as well as vendors, industry contacts, employees, and a whole host of others.

So, start attending trade shows and conventions, as well as joining trade association and online groups. These are all great networking resources for you.

5. Test Your Ideas

Start small. There’s no way you can predict every possible problem or issue that will arise. You’ll find it’s much easier to address these issues if they’re limited to a few test markets as opposed to a global rollout.

6. Turn Early Customers Into Fans

Another advantage of starting out on a small scale is that you can develop more personal relationships with customers. Make sure to provide a great experience for these first customers to build up the most effective advertising there is — word of mouth.

7. Raise Capital

At this point, you should have a proven business model with customers, cash flow, and a plan for expansion. You can now start to raise money through investors, venture capitalist, and banks.

8. Scale Your Business

Take the money raised and use it to scale the business for maximum returns for you, your employees, investors, and early backers.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, there has never been a better time in our history to become an entrepreneur. The old barriers to entry — access to large amounts of capital, expensive professional services like legal and accounting, and staffing issues — can all be overcome thanks to the internet. There are people all over offering these services as freelancers and at discounted rates.

If you truly have a good idea that you are committed to, then really the only thing stopping you from joining the ranks of entrepreneurs is you.

More on How to Become an Entrepreneur

Featured photo credit: Humphrey Muleba via unsplash.com

Reference

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David Carpenter

Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

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Last Updated on October 8, 2020

How to Succeed in Business: 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

How to Succeed in Business: 10 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

Learning how to succeed in business used to be a case of being really good at one skill or area and milking it for all its value. Today, we are fast becoming a “skills economy”[1], driving trends in employment and even the way we approach entrepreneurship.

To succeed in today’s business landscape, business owners and executives need to possess a mix of skills that enable them to stay ahead and adapt to change.

What do you need to do to learn how to succeed in business? Here’re 10 important skills that entrepreneurs need to become successful.

1. Digital Savviness

As the adage goes: “If you’re not online, you don’t exist.” Today’s entrepreneurs need to take to the internet to increase their presence to remain relevant in an evolving business landscape.

Being able to quickly adapt to new technology, whether by utilizing cloud applications, organizing websites using content management systems, or collaborating remotely across the internet, is fast becoming the expected norm for executives.

For businesses, discoverability on the web is becoming a quick litmus test for credibility. Potential customers and investors bank on the first page of Google to make up half their minds about making further transactions with a business. GE Capital Retail Bank found that 81% of retail shoppers conduct online research before buying[2].

How to Develop This Skill

For a start, begin by hosting your website and reserving all of your brand’s handles across social media platforms. While hiring a web developer might sound like the next step, consider first hosting your company’s site on more user and budget-friendly options like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress.

From here, you can start on some simple search engine optimization techniques that will increase your discoverability over time. Through keyword research, organic content creation, and external back-links, your site will slowly but surely garner more traffic.

2. Financial Forecasting

Let’s face it, many business owners feel that time could be better spent on developing and running the business instead of planning for it financially. However, a financial forecast serves as a roadmap for shaping any kind of business, so make this skill a priority when learning how to succeed in business.

Forecasting and planning your financial goals will give you a clearer idea of resources required. It can also provide assurance to investors as a testament to the thorough research and planning you have done.

However, inaccurate forecasts can lead to livid investors and mismanagement of expenses. When creating a detailed financial forecast, a rule of thumb is to always start with your expenses.

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How to Develop This Skill

Generally, it’s easier to calculate and predict your expenses compared to your revenue, so noting down your expenses is a starting point to benchmark how much you might need to generate in sales to turn a profit. It’s a good habit to regularly update and evaluate how close your operations are to what you have forecasted.

Building a precise set of growth forecasting will take time, but, remember, you are an investor in your own business. You must have confidence in the validity of your business concept.

3. Video Production Skills

The rise of visual mediums and the dopamine boosts it gives to users has long been researched and proven as providing an unfair advantage to businesses that leverage it[3].

If you’re a heavy user of social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and even YouTube, you’ll know that it’s pretty hard to stop once you get started on a binge-watching session.

In fact, video marketing is seeing a non-stop rise in popularity and effectiveness when used in conjunction with social media to drive traffic and boost conversions[4]. According to research, after 2019, 80% of global Internet consumption will be video content[5].

With video marketing becoming more ubiquitous, businesses that fail to leverage the power of video are almost certain to lose out.

How to Develop This Skill

Some ways to get started using videos for your business would be:

  • Creating a series of educational videos that cover useful information for your audiences
  • Live videos interacting with your community at large (these can be shot on your smart phone)
  • Using videos on landing pages to boost your customer conversions

4. Benchmarking Personal Goals to Business Performance

As far as you get into achieving endeavors on your business bucket list, it’s important to remember that being an entrepreneur is just one facet of your identity. Don’t forget why you started in the first place, even when your focus is learning how to succeed in business.

Ambition usually stems from some lifestyle goals you’ve always wanted for yourself and the people you might be providing for today or in the future. Working 24/7 is a surefire route to burnout.

How to Develop This Skill

Money can’t be your only motivation, but look into the positives of how having more financial freedom and time can impact your life. In the short term, involving your interests in your businesses can make everyday tasks feel less like mundane errands. In the long run, your business may also bring you fruitful rewards, including personal fulfilment.

Set realistic income goals to manage expectations for your performance and your company’s revenue, especially during its earlier stages. See how projected growth can align with your personal goals and make adjustments accordingly.

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5. Leveraging Healthy Competition

Some of the best athletes who have spent their careers neck-and-neck with each other have changed the standards in their respective sports. The notion of healthy competition applies to the business world more than it may seem on the surface.

Innovation has always been a key driver in free markets, which were intended to boost economies and provide customers with more choices. Just like the biggest sporting rivals that build on each others’ game, you can use your biggest competitors to hone your strategies.

How to Develop This Skill

Turn a competitive market landscape into an advantageous one by leveraging on long-established systems your business proposes an alternative to. Learn from the mistakes of predecessors once you discover their product or service loopholes.

For example, the Dollar Shave Club’s viral video[6] became a big hit because it aimed at consumers tired of purchasing expensive but low quality shavers from retail giants. Going in second meant they could fill a gap competitors might not even have been aware of.

Solidify your place with your business’ advantage — whether you’re tapping into a new geographical region or unexplored market sector, or introducing a business model that is more viable than others.

6. Honing Pitches to Investors

Stand out in a broad mix of entrepreneurs by mastering the art and science behind a solid investor pitch. Make this a focus if you want to learn how to succeed in business. Get comfortable talking about your ideas and receiving feedback or questions from peers, partners, and advisors before setting out to make a good impression on potential customers and eventually investors.

The phrase “If you can’t convince them, confuse them,” will certainly never get your business funded, especially in front of seasoned venture capitalists who have seen thousands of startup pitches. You should be able to deliver a quick elevator pitch that summarizes your unique proposition for casual meet-ups[7] because you sometimes only have a few minutes to make a good impression.

How to Develop This Skill

Develop your investor pitch deck by highlighting your business’ strongest points, which will vary for every funding round. Create your deck with the investors’ interests in mind, balancing technical jargon and buzzwords.

You can also introduce your diverse team of experts, some proven traction, or the current state of the market to demonstrate profitability and the attractiveness of the opportunity to investors.

Ensure each slide flows into the other to develop a persuasive narrative, utilizing consistent and intelligent design principles to support your content.

7. Developing a Strong Brand Identity

In a world of saturated content and numerous emerging businesses that offer similar service lines, developing a unique brand identity will help you cut through the noise and stand out from your competition[8].

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Define your personal brand to succeed in business.

    Evaluating your brand identity is linked to identifying your target customers, your business goals, a proposed promised land your solution achieves, and identifying values that are aligned with these components. Brand identity serves as a guide to maintaining consistency and creating an image you want your business to be associated with.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Efforts to strengthen your brand identity are closely tied to giving marketing strategies a direction.  By knowing what makes your target customers tick, you will be able to elevate your business from simply being a service or product to a projected brand customers and partners would be happy to identify with.

    8. Automating to Your Advantage

    The need for efficiency is often a general problem new businesses aim to resolve. As you’re learning how to succeed in business, assure that your proposed solution is more efficient than what’s readily available in the market to inspire the need for it.

    Efficiency is often achieved nowadays through digitalization and new technologies. While your product or service may not necessarily be the most innovative out there, you can apply the same automation concept across your business’ daily operations.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Shorten turnaround times and conversion rates by investing in small tools for automation where you deem fit. While it may come out of your pocket in the early stages, evaluate the advantages and benefits of automating certain processes. At our office, we’ve tried using collaborative apps like Workplace by Facebook, Slack, Asana and a few other popular apps to reduce human error and friction.

    9. Managing Millennials

    Your team plays an integral part in whether your business will accelerate at breakneck speeds or be dragged down by dead weight. Hence, it is imperative to be selective and strategic when choosing your team.

    In leaner, small business teams, the addition of every new teammate can impact how your organization culture evolves.

    Today, learning to manage millennials has become an increasingly sought after skill as well due to the increasing proportion of them in the workforce[9]. Some brand them as strawberries that are easily bruised, and others loath their need for “meaning” and wearing T-shirts to work.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Naturally, there are many misconceptions surrounding millennials, and various businesses would do well to leverage their unique skills.

    A couple of ways to manage a millennial team include:

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    Encourage a Flat Team Structure With Open Communication

    Maintain clear professional lines between supervisors and subordinates, but keep communication channels open to ensure no negativity festers.

    Offer Constructive Feedback

    Baby boomers are well known for their straightforward approach to delivering feedback. Millennials, on the other hand, don’t always take feedback in a form that could be construed as deep criticism.

    Being constructive with feedback ensures that you don’t coddle millennial workers but also tell them the things they need to hear.

    10. Maintaining a Network of Connectivity

    When learning how to succeed in business, instead of proposing a model that’s disruptive to an industry, build connections with other companies that serve the same target customers, as long as they provide a different service.

    By creating partnerships, both you and other businesses thrive simultaneously.

    Sole market disruption isn’t always the best strategy to take. Not everybody has the opportunity, bandwidth, or financial capacity to dominate and monopolize a marketplace. See your potential for integration into other businesses and services as a good opportunity for co-collaborative marketing efforts with shared campaigns, split costs, and a strengthened customer database for everyone to tap into.

    How to Develop This Skill

    Regardless of the stage your business is in, never stop looking for ways to expand your network. Keep in contact with mentors you can look to for valuable industry advice that can help you avoid pitfalls and costly mistakes. Strengthen brand awareness by attending cross-industry events and casual meet-ups to open your business to reinvention and innovation.

    As the African proverb goes:

    “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

    Collaborating will get you where you want to go quicker and gear you up for further growth.

    More on How to Succeed in Business

    Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

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